Cuts proposed for state’s rescue helicopters

The Westpac Life Saving Rescue Helicopter in flight.
The Westpac Life Saving Rescue Helicopter in flight.

CUTBACKS to the state's Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service are under review by the NSW Ministry of Health.

Under cost-saving recommendations proposed by accounting firm Ernst & Young, the state government has been advised to consider reducing the rescue helicopter fleet from 15 to 12.

If adopted, the number of service regions across the state would be reduced from five to two super-regions, effectively dividing the state into a northern and southern region.

The proposal also recommends using two models of identically configured helicopters rather than the five models currently in service, with doctors onboard all helicopters instead of just at some of the state's bases.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter - Northern Region CEO Kris Beavis said the 291-page review, which had been released the week before Christmas, required much in-depth study to unearth critical details.

However, he said it was clear from a first read that population growth and an aging demographic were the reasons why accountants Ernst and Young recommended an increase in funding of $7.3m each year by 2020.

The extra money would help towards the cost of servicing rescue helicopters at six bases, including Lismore.

Mr Beavis said 70 per cent of the Lismore service budget came from the community, unlike city services which were run under private contract.

Shadow Health Minister Dr Andrew McDonald said rural communities in particular would be under threat and lives would be put at risk due to increased response times to incidents, if the recommendations are adopted.

He said most of the recommendations are about cutting money.

"How can you possibly improve response times with less helicopters?" Mr McDonald said.

"'It seems to me that the bottom line is more important."

The last major review of the services was in 2004.

The community has been given two months to respond to the recommendations.

Topics:  nsw health westpac rescue helicopter

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